Review: Rock of Ages (Drury Lane Theatre)

| September 19, 2017

Adam Michaels stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages at Drury Lane Theatre            


Rock of Ages

Book by Chris D’Arienzo 
Arrangements by Ethan Popp    
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
thru Oct 15  |  tix: $45-$60  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Get ready to rock


Russell Mernagh stars as Drew in Rock of Ages at Drury Lane Theatre

Drury Lane Theatre presents
Rock of Ages

Review by Catey Sullivan

Rock of Ages just might be the most shamelessly pandering musical since, oh, the late 1980s. It revels in boobie and poop jokes and stratospherically over-the-top characters. It is a shameless homage to the thrusting power of three-chord rock ‘n roll. And it’s that very shamelessness that makes the show work. If you’re going to set a musical in the most ridiculous decade of the last century, you might as well go as big as conceivably possible in portraying that ridiculousness.

Nicholas Druzbanski stars as Lonny in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane TheatreRock of Ages goes huge in both skewering and celebrating the late 1980s. Power ballads by the likes of Whitesnake make the money notes in “On My Own” sound subtle. The costume design features more spandex and tear-away pants than happy hour in the VIP room at a Lyons strip club. Those who lived through 1980s – especially the latter half of them – recall the power of toaster-sized shoulder pads, day-glo jazzercize outfits and REO Speedwagon. So does Rock of Ages, which manages to make mockery of the era without getting mean about it. Rock of Ages is a parodage – part parody, part homage – that’s wholly hilarious provided you’re not taking yourself (or anything else) too seriously.

Directed by Scott Weinstein for Oakbrook Terrace’s Drury Lane Theatre, Rock of Ages is the kind of show that will send rock snobs screaming for the exits. And probably more than a few musical theater aficionados as well. It is not, as the rambunctiously crude and winningly puerile narrator Lonny (Nicholas Druzbanski) puts it, a show by Sir Andrew Lloyd Schlongheim. Chris D’Arienzo’s book and Ethan Popp’s arrangements and orchestrations are garish, stupid, juvenile and more fun than a Pac Man tourney in an afterhours juice bar.

The plot follows aspiring rock star Drew (Russell Mernagh) and aspiring actress Sherrie (Cherry Torres) as they navigate the wilds of the Sunset Strip. Their star-cross’d affair plays out as an evil German developer Hertz (George Keating) and his twinkle-toed son Franz (Nick Cosgrove) plot to rid the Strip of its gritty rocker ambiance and replace its iconic clubs with Foot Lockers.

Russell Mernagh stars as Drew in Rock of Ages at Drury Lane Theatre 2 Russell Mernagh and John Edwards star in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane TheatreAdam Michaels stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane Theatre

Central to the gentrification plan is the grimy glamorous Bourbon Room, owned by one Dennis DuPre (Gene Weygandt), a Gregg Allman-esque dude who looks like he smells like Woodstock three days in. Our narrator is the aforementioned Lonny, a fellow who isn’t above prancing across the stage in his underpants for a cheap laugh.

There is also a die-hard radical protester named Regina (rhymes with vagina), played by Tiffany Tatreau, who once jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in order to make a point about…something. Finally, there is Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels), a rock god with impossibly shiny locks and a fetish involving baby llamas.

Weinstein navigates a tricky balance between charm and strident inanity. Yes, everyone onstage is more or less a cartoon – including the music. No, the show is not without a heart. There is joy and the honesty within these characters, and Weinstein manages to make the humanity shine through, even when Fogmaster 5000 is on blast and the wa-wa pedal is amped up to “11.”

It helps tremendously that this cast – which also features the sublime Donica Lynn as a siren-voiced owner of a strip club – can sing with a force that requires no autotune or dubbing. And there’s no denying the fun to be had seeing just how Popp’s orchestrations and arrangements of ‘80s tunage is worked into the context of the silly story.

Cherry Torres stars as Sherrie in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane Theatre Gene Weygandt and Nicholas Druzbanski star as Dennis and Lonny in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane TheatreGene Weygandt and Tiffany Tatreau, Nick Cosgrove and George Keating star in Rock of Ages

As the nubile Sherrie, Torres can deliver both the emotion and the belt in numbers like “Sister Christian” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” (the latter deployed during a bruisingly violent lap dance that proves Sherrie is nobody’s mindless groupie.) Mernagh makes Drew a goofy boy-next-door whose awkward vulnerability melts away when he launches into the likes of “I Wanna Rock.”

Michaels’ Stacee Jaxx is an unholy cross between “Jesse’s Girl”-era Rick Springfield and “Rock of Love”-era Bret Michaels. His hair is magnificent, as are the pelvic gyrations that makes “Dead or Alive” feel like an outtake for the world’s best (or worst, depending on how you want to look at it) Viagra commercial.

Keating has a German accent straight out of “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” which is exactly what you want for a character who rails against sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll from atop of rolling ladder that positions him like some kind of malevolently scene-chewing Teutonic Zeus. As his fey son Franz, Cosgrove could be Richard Simmons’ long lost, deeply insecure younger brother. As clubowner Dennis, Weygandt nails the laid back groove of the perpetually high. Not even death can harsh his buzz.

Sawyer Smith, Tiffany Tatreau and Sharriese Hamilton star in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane Theatre

Druzbanski holds the whole thing together as a narrator who isn’t above breaking the fourth wall with the kind of lascivious innuendos that make sixth grade boys giggle. As for the unexpected love story that emerges in the show’s final act, it’s a thing of beauty.

Everyone is backed by Arsenal, the onstage band that nails the piledriving aesthetic of the ‘80s. Keyboardist Chris Sargeant, guitarists Dan Peters and Tom Logan, bassist Patrick Williams and drummer Rick Trelease could surely make a killing as an ‘80s cover band. Weinstein opens the show by having Peters rise from below the stage, backlit like a full-body glamour shot, his hair whipping in a wind machine that gives him a full-on Fabio effect. It’s a visual (and a sound) that perfectly sums up the entire show.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design is fittingly packed with ‘80s references, including more than a dozen screens that intermittently flicker with projection designer Rasean Davonte Johnson’s video touchstones from the decade. And choreographer Stephanie Klemons gives everybody the kind of moves that fueled the early years of MTV.

Rock of Ages won’t make you any smarter. Nor will it leave you pondering the deeper mysteries of life. But it will make you wanna rock. And celebrate the excesses that made the 1980s so memorable.

Rating: ★★★½

Rock of Ages continues through October 15th at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace (map), with performances Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays 1:30pm & 8pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm & 8:30pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm.  Tickets are $45-$60, and are available by phone (847-745-3000) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 5 minutes, includes an intermission)

Adam Michaels stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane Theatre

Photos by Brett Beiner 




Russell Mernagh (Drew), Cherry Torres (Sherrie), Nicholas Druzbanski (Lonny, record company man), Adam Michaels (Stacee Jaxx, father), Gene Weygandt (Dennis, record company man), Nick Cosgrove (Franz), George Keating (Hertz), Donica Lynn (Mother, Justice), Tiffany Tatreau (Regina, Candi), Andrea Collier (young groupie, waitress number two, understudy, Sherrie, reporter), John Edwards (Mayor, Ja’Keith), Annie Jo Ermel (reporter, understudy Regina, Candi, dance captain), Michael Ferraro (swing, understudy Drew, father, Stacee Jaxx, Joey Primo, Mayor, father, Ja’Keith, sleazy producer), Sherriese Hamilton (waitress number one, understudy mother, Justice), Colts Julian (Joey Primo, understudy Lonny, Dennis, Hertz), Lindsay Loretta Prerost (swing), Sawyer Smith (sleazy record producer, understudy Franz)

behind the scenes

Chris Sargeant (conductor, keyboards), Dan Peters (electric guitar, acoustic guitar), Tom Logan (electric guitar), Patrick Williams (bass), Rich Trelease (drums), Carey Deadman, Ethan Deppe (electronic music design).

behind the scenes

Scott Weinstein (director), Stephanie Klemons (choreography), Roberta Duchak (music direction), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), Theresa Ham (costume design), Greg Hofmann (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Rasean Davonte Johnson (projection design), Larry Baker (stage manager), Brett Beiner (photos)

Russell Mernagh stars as Drew in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane TheatreDan Peters stars in Rock of Ages, Drury Lane TheatreAdam Michaels stars as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages at Drury Lane Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Musical, Video, YouTube

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